Cancer

When it has been a year: 5 things I learned in 2017

I love me a good fresh start just like any self-respecting Type A, INFJ, enneagram 3 and a New Year is prime time to do some serious navel gazing and where are we going from here pondering. Also a softie at heart I revel in all the look back and reflect type exercises too. Our family has a yearly tradition of writing our top ten lists on New Year's Eve. I personally love finding the good, the blessings, the wonder, and I find it connecting to hear what stood out for the people I love too. Not a shock to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit but 2017 kicked my behind. 2017 kicked my husband's behind. 2017 was a year we will never forget, even when we wish we could. During the top ten family list making, several events popped up that I had already forgotten about - a bunch of situations that in a normal year would have stood out for their 'badness'. But this year they disappeared into the cobwebs of my brain crowded out by much bigger situations. Despite all the hard things, I remember 2017 almost exactly like this:

2017 was a good year. It was a year I saw my children thrive and continue to believe in love and goodness. It was a year we celebrated Aaron's 40th birthday and our 19th anniversary and surprise! we still love and like each other very much, and to me that is no small thing. It was a year I got to jump off more things into water with the ones I love and what else could I ask for, after all that was my hope. It was a year I found Jesus my constant companion in the midst of not doing, in the midst of having to be helped, in the midst of fear, anxiety and sickness. It was a year I came to fully believe that even if the worst happened, I trusted God for good. It was a year I started to reclaim who I am at my core and how I want to live that out.

2017 was a year I survived, a fact I am damn proud of and looking back there are some things a survival year has taught me, recorded here so just like our annual top ten lists, I don't forget.

1. You can do hard things (even when you don't want to).  This phrase is a bit cliche these days but it is also true. We don't know what we are made of until we have to make it through something hard we haven't chosen and then trust me, you can do more than you ever guessed about yourself. This doesn't mean we always jump up and down with glee over these 'opportunities' for growth, or feel immediate gratitude for being drawn closer to what really matters through suffering. What it does mean is that even if we wouldn't wish this situation on our worst enemy and we are perfectly happy to remain shallow if we could pass this by, when push comes to shove, by relying on God and those who love us we can do this really hard thing.

2. Healing takes longer than you think it should. I could write a whole book about this but if you have been through a trauma like potentially loosing health, life, safety, a loved one, it takes time to heal. Physically yes, but also emotionally and mentally. See a counselor, pray, go to yoga, spend time in nature, move your body - it's all steps in the right direction but it is still slower going than you would like it to be. Most other people won't understand this and will expect you to be 'normal' pretty ASAP. Hold onto your healing path anyway.

3. It is okay just to survive. There is a movement in the cancer online world to call oneself a cancer 'thriver'. I swear I wanted to sucker punch someone each and every time I read that. Look, this shit is hard and getting through something that will kill you if left untreated is not in most people's 'thrive' zone. There will be other times you can thrive, other times you can do all the things you see other people not currently going through crises doing. Just getting through cancer or another traumatic season - I'm giving you a gold star all the way.

4. It is okay to say no. Most people I know fall into two categories. The first are people who are okay with taking help and these people also seem to be better at self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. The second is people who are not so great at taking help, self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. I was in the second category and am trying to slowly move myself more into the first category. I had to say no a lot this year, I took a lot of help this year, I set boundaries and placed a lot of self-imposed limits and sometimes it was really hard. No, scratch that out, each and every time it was really hard. But...BUT I did make some breakthroughs and learned I cannot be all things to all people and even if people might feel mad or sad or excluded I can give empathy, but it is not my job to do their emotional work or meet each and every persons’ needs. (This itself was several counselling sessions of material.) I remind myself of this often because it is still my primal instinct to change what will be best for myself and my family to make everyone else like me, and to try and do all the things because that used to be easy for me. If you are in the second category like me, know the world will keep on turning even if you say no, set boundaries, take help. It's uncomfortable at first (or maybe forever) but there is more room for authenticity and wholeheartedness which in my opinion is a decent trade off.

5. Everyone needs more grace. Including myself. Having spent much of this year in survival mode has made me act in ways I haven't always felt proud of. In survival mode things often feel scarce, like there isn't enough to go around and I am at my absolute worst when I am operating from that place. I have said and done things or not done things I wish 100x over I could undo. I couldn't do everything I actually wanted to do (not just felt I should) because I didn't always have the energy to. I try to use this as a guidepost for myself when other people do things I think are douchy too. Most likely they are feeling scarce because of a hard thing or a past hard thing just like I am. So I keep reminding myself, more grace, grace all around.

I'd love to hear what you learned in 2017 too.

Today

Life just keeps right on chugging along and here we are mid-July already, can you actually believe it? The garden is growing; full of weeds, a little too wild as usual and right alongside it my kiddos. My baby who I will always and forever swear was just born turned seven and asked to climb a real mountain for her birthday so they did - all 2407 meters (7898 feet) of Ha-Ling with daddy and her siblings, this mama who is afraid of heights stopping 4/5 of the way to the top.

My middle doesn't have many little girl years left so I am enjoying this one so much, watching her be so wild and free in who she is is a gift. She swims on scorching days and curls up with her cat and a novel on the rainy ones in between.

My oldest is growing into an almost teenager - serious and just and determined. He fractured his wrist playing soccer but hasn't let it slow him down much and has still played soccer an almost obscene number of hours this month which makes him happier than truly anything else in the world right now.

I finished a quilt I've been wanting to make for seven years. I've been playing with the kids and cutting flowers to bring inside. Taking us all to water when the weather allows. Walking the dog with Aaron after the kids are in bed. I went back to work (part time) a few months back so that has taken away some of my writing time but it's been okay - I've been working on listening as my default, instead of always contributing.

When I think back to summers growing up I remember what seemed like an endless stretch of days that didn't fly by as they seem to now. We swam at the outdoor pool and read book after book, played outside for hours with our friends. We always went camping to visit my dad's family where we restored all our souls surrounded by British Columbia's water. After September long weekend, I was okay with going back to school, ready for the newness and routine after getting my fill of floating through the summer days doing more as I pleased.

Now I'm a middle aged mother who wakes up wanting to make the most of each day because every year I can feel a bit more panicky about summer going too fast - about how many more years I will have my kids at home. A week can go by in a blink where I feel like not much happened except our regular life.

My grandmother is right, time does go more quickly as we get older.

Here I am smack dab in the middle of summer, smack dab in the middle of my ordinary, but oh so beautiful life. Perspective is everything, or so they say and I will say that having cancer, in my experience anyway, hones your perspective about almost everything.

Summer does go by faster than I want it to, each and every year but also: that is okay. These things I am doing in my ordinary weeks, I am glad for them. Not everyone gets to wake up and go to work, cook another meal, wash that daily stinky load of sports laundry, read bedtime stories, reach out to hold the person's hand to offer forgiveness first after a fight. Not everyone gets to scrub their toilets, pull weeds, get snacks for all the neighbour kids. All these things I used to see sometimes begrudgingly as 'have' to do alongside the playing and swimming and reading and memory making, I don't see it that way anymore. I see I don't have to's - I see 'get' to's.

God is in the mountain tops yes, and yes God was faithfully with me during sickness and fear. Those are easy for me to remember. But also today, this very one rainy summer day, this is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Because God is also here in this, the ordinary, everyday. All our 'have to's' are suddenly sacred if you imagine it all gone. I'm like Jacob, I have woken up and seen that the Creator is in this place and I did not know it. The holy ground of middle life.

Life may be shorter than you thought so do all the big things you want to do. Plan the trip, climb the mountain, start and finish the big project, for goodness sake get the tattoo you have been thinking about for more than a decade. Throw yourself the party you always wanted, jump into the water fully dressed. Follow where the spirit calls.

But also life may be shorter than you thought so be right here, today, don't waste it away in forever being slightly ill contented. Don't let what ifs and could it be betters and comparisons steal anything away from what you have today.

Settle into who you are and don't wish for someone else's dreams or happiness because this right here whatever God put in front of you is enough. Smile and stop and look into the eyes of the people you love (and maybe even at some you don't), cherish your coffee, find joy in all those get to's. Sieze the shit out of it. Do your ordinary, everyday things in between the big things and love them just as much if not more. No more panicking, just rejoicing.

 

On pieces

I'm looking out the window at our apple tree all in bloom. Sitting under it and breathing deeply gives you a glimpse of heaven, just this one week or so a year, the air infused with it's scent. It's like hearing a baby laugh or kissing your love in front of the stove - all just feels possible. I'd like to be on my way to watch my oldest's soccer game, this early Saturday morning, because I love seeing my kids do what makes them feel alive. But I have two darlings still sleeping soundly, despite me opening their black out blinds, showering and putzing around with their door open. And it's like someone said to me yesterday, I still can't wake a sleeping baby. Amen forever friend.

So I thought I would write out some thoughts here instead, towards the end of May. Here where I most often sit down to write, I have just a few things that really inspire me hanging in my little office alcove. Two of them are meant to be stone drink coasters but they were hand painted on salt spring and I don't believe in hiding art with a beverage. Instead I asked Aaron to figure out a way to hang them for me and, of course he did. One says 'create' and one says 'still'. Visual reminders of two things I so often prioritize as last on the list. But not this year, this long, late winter and early spring has been a season of stillness for me. A season of sitting with myself and the one who made me.

Last I wrote here it was late March and I knew it would be a haul to get through the last of winter. I wasn't wrong. April passed by in snow day after snow day. Towards the end of the month on the day I turned 38, I looked in the mirror after a yoga class. Wearing just my sports bra and yoga capris I didn't recognize the person I saw looking back at me.

My face looked worn and a little lifeless. I have gotten my first grey hairs, given to me not by my children but instead by the stress of cancer. I have been through things this 37th year that have temporarily drained away my eyes ease and sparkle.

List that under things I have lost in my 37th year. One appendix, one ovary, one cancerous tumor. The daily sparkle in my eyes. Having enough energy to get through what used to be a normal day. Knowing who I am, believing I am guaranteed a normal life span. Believing I am guaranteed anything.

I could also see some of the things gained: nine abdominal scars, one tattoo, the gift of more time to live my life. Insight as to what is important to me. An absolute knowledge that God is with me and loves me. Gratitude for everything I have that I used to take for granted. It's hard to catch me feeling jealous anymore, I'm too aware of my own life's goodness. I see gifts everywhere and lament when I see opportunities to receive turned away or missed.

My husband and I joke about cancer being one of the mid-life crisises you don't get to pick. Other people might be buying fancy cars, or changing jobs, or taking really cool trips, or doing something else to get some joy or try and figure out or live out who we really are because we are somewhere around forty and we have no more babies so, heck, why not? But us, we got cancer to bring about intense life reevaluation and even though I didn't need chemo and am in a promising place health wise now, my very self has shifted in ways and in magnitude I didn't expect.

The best I can explain what cancer did to me is this. It shattered my very self into a thousand pieces. All the things I have chosen to be, or had to be to survive, to thrive, or often just things I thought I had to do or be are lying there on the ground about my feet. I'm standing in the middle of a broken mirror, my reflection disjointed, fractured. I look at it with interest like I would a Picasso, not like something that belongs to me. I knew cancer would be hard, but this still wasn't what I was expecting.

I've been going to a counselor because, well, because of what I said above. I wouldn't wish cancer or any trauma on anyone, but I will just say this: counseling has been a gift I've probably needed since high school and cancer made me get it.

I've seen her for lots of things but one of the things I saw her for was mourning over the loss of myself. Over not knowing who I am. Over feeling like everything I ever cared about, I'm not sure if I do anymore. Over having no idea of who I will be when this all settles. Over feeling like a gross, messy, self-absorbed pile of goop.

My counselor rocks because she looked at me and said something to this extent: 'Yes that is really hard, totally shitty, you should really mourn that because it's sad and hard.' But then she leaned closer and said 'but also Leah you can be anything you want' in a voice rich with excitement and possibility.

So here, at the end of May as I look out at new life blooming literally right in front of my eyes, I'm starting to see it differently. I look down at those shards, at those pieces and I'm curious and slightly hopeful. All of a sudden winter is over, spring is in full swing and I'm more worried about picking up too many or the wrong ones than I am about seeing them all lying there.

Late March

It is snowing outside again today - big flakes backed by a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Even though we have lived in Northern Alberta for eleven years now, winter still feels long, each and every year. I grew up in Southern Alberta where there were always tulips in early April and we never wore snowsuits (or even coats) for Halloween. Probably only four to six weeks less of winter a year, but enough of a difference to make me feel trapped after the five and a half or so months we get here. I'm dreaming of bare feet on grass. I quit facebook, probably not forever, but for well over a week now. My mind needed some extra space, and I don't have the self-discipline to stop checking on my own, so quitting it was. I'm craving a lot of quiet which is ironic for a woman who homeschools her three children, has a nine week old puppy and is living out the last few weeks of full on winter. I'm trying all my get through this season tricks that are available to me.

Running usually helps me get through this period of the year and I'm missing the mental clarity it brings to me. I've been thinking much about running because yes, I'm missing how it makes me feel but also because I feel like I have just run a race. A race I didn't sign up for and I didn't know how long it was going to be.

This is true of any tragedy, of any trauma, of any hardship that comes and surprises us I think. For anything you have to do that you really would rather not have to handle. Any race you would rather not have to run.

The actual running of the race is the really hard and scary part. You have to push yourself, you use all your positive thinking mind tricks, you tell yourself you aren't tired and that heck yes, you can go a lot further. You tell yourself you are strong, you are brave, you are not a victim. Because you are, but also because if you didn't think you were before, you have to be now.

You have to surrender yourself to the process, to God, to faith and hope. You give yourself over to the belief that good will come from this. Because the alternative just doesn't jive with your soul.

Of course there are times where you break down, where you think you can't do this anymore. Times when you depend on the medics and the volunteers who pass out water and your family and friends who helped you train and are cheering you on, even if they don't really understand running at all.

After you are patched up, cheered on, taken care of, you keep going because you aren't ready to give up. Mostly you do pretty well and don't break down too often,  and you think I'm okay, I'm fine, I'm not tired. I can keep doing this shit like I was born to handle it. This goes on for varying lengths of time and involves random changes in the course.

You keep going because you are strong, you are brave yes, but also because you are tenderhearted. Because you have the will to live and grow and heal. You learn all kinds of things about God and your self you weren't sure you ever wanted to learn. You make it through things that are taking every ounce of will you have.

Then one day the race is over, at least for now.

And whatever your race is that you didn't choose and didn't know how long it would be, when it is over you are tired. Maybe it was only a half marathon instead of a full or maybe you had to do the whole freaking iron man. Anyone who has trained for these types of runs knows, you lie to yourself to get yourself through. No I'm not tired. I can keep going. This hill is no big deal. But when you let yourself stop, when the race is done, it comes flooding in. Tired muscles, tired lungs, tired self.

So here I am in late March. Tired. Feeling acceptance about this messy middle, the place where I can't feel all the gratitude I know I will feel when I've sat here long enough to catch my breath, when I've stopped racing long enough to have recovered a bit more.

It's my nature to rush this, just like the last few weeks of winter, to wish it away, instead of learning from where I am at. So for now I tell myself, spring is coming, everything just needs a bit more rest.

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So...

(Originally written for facebook) I've got some not awesome news and that is that I have cancer. I haven't been very public about this yet as I wasn't sure until recently where this was headed (and hoping it would just be a little blip) so I wasn't feeling the desire to make it 'facebook public' so to speak. The world feels a little crazy right now and the last thing I would want to do is add to people's feelings of overwhelm or take away from anything else currently going on. Instead my intention is to hopefully increase compassion and connection for whatever is going on in your own life. I tend to have a lot of thoughts about this right now so if you are interested here are some of them.

As it has become apparent this won't be the little blip I hoped, I still debated about keeping this very quiet and asking people not to share but there were two issues with that. The first very practical one is my husband is not a private person and a part of how he lives is being very open. Therefore I want to be somewhat open here too so people who know both of us aren't only hearing things from him and people who I am close to but he isn't aren't left in the dark.

The second issue is that we live in an interesting time of facebook and instagram and all other sorts of social media. Overall truly I love social media - often I think it spreads joy and hope and connection and provides a place to get some empathy or learn about something new, support a cause you are passionate about or heck, even just good suggestions for what to read next.

However, I am getting closer to forty and as I have aged this has become a life truth: hard things happen to everyone. Everyone you know has either recently had or is having or will in the future be having a hard time. This is just a part of life, there aren't any exceptions I have observed, just as I believe joyful things happen to everyone as well, if we can have the eyes to see them.

Now social media doesn't always make it look that way because hard things are often very private, as private or more private than the things that bring us the utmost joy. Here is why: perhaps your hard time has to do with your child or your partner or your sibling. Perhaps it has to do with finances or health issues we find embarrassment around or our childhoods. Maybe it is something you feel shame about so isn't safe to put out there for everyone's input. These are things we can talk to our most inner circle about but they are not things most of us talk about online. Because they aren't just ours to tell and most of the people in our online worlds don't need to be privy to the details. The details cannot make sense outside of a close relationship context or it just simply isn't a safe subject to open up. Maybe we think that because our hard times seem easy compared to others they don't count so we keep quiet. This of course is utter crap, hardness is not a contest and empathy, as a woman I love says, is not a nine piece pie. There is enough to go around. So because of our respect and concern for others involved (including our very own selves) in our hard stories, they often don't show up on social media and we are stuck in a place where it may appear that so few of us are actually ever having hard times.

In fact the hard things can sometimes be so absent from social media that we can sometimes start to think we are the only ones going through struggles or at least the struggles that aren't on the nightly news. We can sometimes even start to feel jealous and angry and resentful of people who look like they have it all together.

So I decided to share as a reminder that whether it is out there on social media or not, if you are having a hard time you are not alone. You are loved. You are cared for. I hope you have people taking good care of you. You are not the only one with shit blowing up everywhere and living with fear and worry alongside any joy and hope. I know you care about things outside yourself and want to change the world to be a better place, no matter how much energy you have to give to that right now or not.

If you are not having a hard time right at this very instant, I hope this will be a reminder to be compassionate to others because we can't be sure of what they have going on. A reminder that while lots of us have good lives, none of us have perfect lives. A reminder to be gracious to others because we are all still learning and stress often causes us to not do things to the standard which we would prefer. To be happy and celebrate as much as possible other's healthy boundaries or joys or celebrations that they do share because who knows what else they have gone through, aside from what you are seeing.

As for me I have appendix cancer (one in a million so likely you haven't heard of it or known anyone with it before.) If you are interested in the more nitty gritty details of that I wrote a post of the history and where things are at currently on my blog: www.leahcolbeck.com  Otherwise I'm super grateful that I know so many people who believe in taking good care of the people around them - whether we know of any hardship they may be having or not because this is what the world needs. I will also say in advance I appreciate all the love and prayers and am so thankful for that.

Photo because I still believe God made this world so beautiful and full of love.

Perspective and circling

I was rear ended last week and perhaps the good thing about rear ending someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer is that (in my case anyway) they might not sweat it. Yes my car needs fixing and going to the police station and calling insurance took up half my day,  yes my back and shoulders are sore but my girls who were with me are a okay (thank you car seats) and we are all alive. I hugged the lady who hit me, she was shaking, apologizing over and over and I told her, it's okay, they are just things. Things can be fixed and at the end of the day they don't matter as much as we think they do, beyond food and clothing and shelter to keep us healthy and dry and warm.

It is a little like cancer. Perspective. As far as cancer goes I have it pretty lucky. Low grade is in some ways better than high grade or heaven forbid aggressive. Caught relatively early and I had my colonoscopy yesterday and there weren't any lesions in my bowel or colon: also pretty lucky. Having my main tumor removed without complications already is lucky. *Possibly* not needing chemo also very fucking lucky. Being able to live without everything there is growth on right now - lucky.

This doesn't mean it feels easy or that I feel lucky. Even yesterday after the happy colonoscopy result I felt pretty numb, likely in part from the colonoscopy prep which involves over 40 hours without solids and crapping out about 30 cups of fluid followed up by getting a camera put where the sun doesn't shine (I will laugh about this one day but that day is not today) but also because whenever a test or procedure or call happens, it is there again. A reminder. Real. Something growing in your body that shouldn't be. Before the colonoscopy results could really sink in I got a call from my other doctor (I have a bowel oncologist and a gynecological oncologist) telling me she was moving ahead with scheduling ovary removal. Again good news(ish) but also hard, a reminder of what is still to come.

Every time I feel positive and well and like "by the grace of God I got this shit handled" I think that will be it. I will be strong and positive and happy each and every day until this is over with. I will be grateful and zen and drink my green juice and take my supplements and essential oils and pray and say my affirmations and see my acupuncturist from now until forever if I need to.

Until I'm not feeling that way anymore.

I had a moment of supreme irritation last week thinking ahead to the colonoscopy and again yesterday getting the call from the gynecologist where I felt so angry at myself about my emotions. About how I was feeling scared again. I'm incredibly grateful in a logical way for the positive colonoscopy yesterday, but the week before it really settled in that this was happening because they might find something else. 

I was mad at myself that I was feeling negative feelings again. But more than that I was upset because I realized that this process will continue until this is done and that makes me feel so, so tired and also beat down. I realized I will circle through  feeling like good will come from this, that I will be refined in ways I both knew I needed and in ways I had no clue and how beautiful that will be and between feeling not so redeeming things like anger and fear and general bitchiness and self-pity.

The harder parts of the circle seem to trigger another round of 'I shoulding' myself (I should be handling this better, I should be being more positive, I should be more grateful, etc., etc., etc.), followed by another round of mourning, needing comfort and burning some fears up.

I'm tired now, this week especially again but it's okay. It's okay to not always do everything well.

It's okay because I have been through this a few times already. I will lean into what is getting me through, continue on in this circle, and come around again to the top.

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Giving thanks - even on the hard days when I don't feel like it. One of the things I'm leaning into.

 

Finding light

Today is the shortest day of the year and also the first day of winter. I crept out of bed before any of my kids and even though it was past eight it was still pitch black. Tonight it will be solidly dark well before we have dinner. I'm looking out the window at part of our forest while I write this, the trees all bare but their branches beginning to be lightly illuminated by the sky behind them as the sun rises. There isn't even enough snow to cover all the fall leaves where they lay thick in the wild parts of our yard. Trees don't have trouble with the stark stripping down and apparent death of this season, they thrive on letting things go to nourish what is coming next. It's not always so easy for us humans. img_6539

It has been two months to the day since I had an emergency appendectomy where they found not an infected appendix but instead a tumour that had ruptured my appendix and also some deposits on my right ovary.

It has been about six weeks since I found out exactly what that tumour was, a low grade appendicital neoplasm and also that the deposits on my ovary were mucousy which is how this tumour  spreads.

It has been five weeks since I found out from my amazing surgeon (who did everything right during surgery even though this is very rare) an approximation of what oncology would do.

It has been a week since I have met with one of my oncologists for the first time.

Here is what I've found:

It takes about two weeks, maybe a bit less for your mind to wrap your head around the idea that yes, this is happening to you. You are really allowed to feel sad or mad or anything else you want about your diagnosis during that time even though there are worse tragedies going on in the world, because, well you just are.

It takes about a week (for me anyway) after it all sinks in to get incredibly fed up of thinking about life without you, so I wrote about it because that helps me process it and shake it off, but also my husband gave me this.

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It takes about one week of wearing this elastic band with one hard snap each and every time I thought about life without me in it until I didn't really need it anymore. (Idea from Kris Carr's book, Crazy, Sexy, Cancer Survivor).

If I am having a bad day, I put it back on but mostly now it is this:

One day at a time

Putting your big girl panties on

Being held up by the prayers and encouragement of those who love you and a God who calls you beloved.

Because it takes about zero days to realize how much you love your life, and by that you mean your family, your friends, your faith, your very own self, even this often very broken world. I think this is what we call blessed; when you have all of this, so dear to your heart that you have such gratitude, despite what ever else is going on. So you suck it up, you breathe them in. You absolutely get drunk on everyday moments like brushing your girls freshly dried hair and saying I love you and eating dinner together around the candles.

You revel in moments that you no longer take for granted like waking up alive and hearing your prognosis is good. Because it takes about zero days to realize that to survive you have to look for the light, each and every speck of it, especially during the darkest days of the year.

 

Hope (surprises part III)

Advent came so early this year and I have never been so glad for it. In my faith tradition and many other Christian ones, advent is the season before Christmas when we lean into the darkest part of the year and light candles, reflect and take action for hope, peace, joy and love while we wait for Jesus to come.

This past Sunday almost a week ago already started the week of hope. There are so many reasons we need hope aren't there? Maybe it is social media, or the election in the US and all that has brought to light or just my own sad heart but the world seems full to overflowing with tragedies. It can be hard for me not to feel overwhelmed and powerless and paralyzed to do anything.

Personally to say the least I've had some challenging weeks. A week or so before advent began I told a friend the day after I googled about my tumors - when I was trying to hone in on what I needed I said - 'it's hope I just need some hope'. It wasn't an official prayer and yet there it was. I had no idea how to find it. I was hopeless.

That night another friend stopped by unexpectedly and in the midst of my tears she told me she had been up all night researching and this wasn't why she came over but she felt after listening to me she had to share some more positive statistics than the ones I had read. There it was - hope. Someone prayed for me over the phone. Hope. My husband bought me an encouraging and honest and positive book about surviving cancer. Hope again. A friend sent me a gorgeous piano piece she had been playing in prayer for me. Hope. Everyday someone new tells me they are praying for me. People are open and honest and real. People send you funny and cute messages and talk to you about normal things. Hope, hope, hope.

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I've written this before and it is still true. When I think about what I hope for it’s this: wholeness for people and planet. Kingdom come. I think this is why Barbara Kingsolver says the most you can do with your life when you have figured out what you hope for is to live inside that hope. ‘Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it’s roof.’

Ann Voskamp  calls us the Esther Generation, reminds me that I am living in the palace and that God has put me here for such a time as this. The hurting world needs us and aren't these kind of the same thing? Find what we hope for and live right there putting some skin into the game?

When my eyes are opened I look and this is what I see: hope. Instead of overwhelmed inaction I see people living nitty-gritty with what they believe. I see them sponsoring refugees and listening to a crying friend over coffee and getting up hour after hour after hour with their sick babies.  I see them picking up groceries and helping move and also giving grace when things are too stretched to contribute beyond your own family or your own self. I see people seeing others, and telling them thank you and buying fair trade and donating money and demonstrating compassion.

There it is: prayer answered.

 

Surprises Part I  and Surprises Part II

Surprises part two

(Just a heads up I'm going to talk about what it was like to find out I have either pre-cancerous cells or cancerous cells - the doctors aren't sure yet. It isn't very light reading so you may not want to read it. My main intent is to give a sense of solidarity and normalcy  to anyone else dealing with this type of news. Also I'll write more this week about how I'm doing so much better now.) img_6272

 

One thing no one tells you who has had to deal with oncology (and that you couldn't imagine even if they did) is that when a doctor tells you they found a tumor during what you thought was a routine appendectomy, is how often you think about dying.

At first you hope and pray benign, benign, benign. You cling to that in between imagining your own funeral and your family without you. When you find out no, not benign, the fears come even faster because you are not ready to leave this beautiful life. In a bizarre turn of events at age 37 your body has cells that (whether the doctors are unsure until your next surgery if it is technically considered cancer yet or not) if left alone, if you carry on the same path, will kill you.

When oncology calls you put your head between your knees and breathe because you notice you are hyperventilating and trying not to have a panic attack. Also you are nauseous everyday and you wonder if it is the growths spreading. (It's one of the questions they keep asking you, are you nauseous? Were you experiencing nausea?) Also you still have some post-surgery abdominal pain, is that normal at this point? And you are tired. All of it in your mind, cancer, cancer, cancer. You lose twelve pounds and people who don't know tell you you look great.

You avoid people who can't control their own panic because you have absolutely zero emotional reserves for anyone other than your very own people in your very own walls and you tell yourself you are barely holding your own shit together although truthfully, during this time you really aren't. At times you are mad you are a person who needs help, who needs empathy.

You don't tell anyone about how many times a day you picture life without you in it because you realize it is totally crazy town up inside your head, but also because no one imagines their loved one will be the one that actually dies tragically. You think longingly about when you had days, weeks, months, years where you didn't think about dying, not even one little time.

Then maybe the worst day, you google. If you are reading this and you are recently diagnosed please listen to what everyone says. For the love of all that is good and holy don't google. Don't google. Don't google. You will read things you cannot forget even though you will really, really want to. You totally loose it and spend the whole day weeping, absolutely sure you will not live to see your children move out.

You consider the progression of pleading in your mind. Please let the tumors be benign. Please let me not need chemo. Please let me if I need chemo that there be one that works. Please let me live at least long enough for my kids to be okay.

You also joke, you joke a lot because this helps take away from having tears spring up unexpectedly at bill paying, carving pumpkins or putting your kids to bed. When you get calls for test appointments you didn't know you needed, you joke that if you don't have cancer already, after this many CT's you will. There is also a lot of numbing with facebook and with television and the election because you just need some non-cancer distraction every day. You feel thankful for this, but also a bit guilty because thinking about death gives you an awareness that you really should be making the most of your days.

In between all this you hug your kids, you hug your husband, you list your gratitude's. And pray, yes you don't really stop praying although it would take God to make sense of all the anxious, frantic, disjointed thoughts coming from your mind. Thankfully that is what God is for. Someone who has been through a lot and has a beautiful faith and spirit reminds you that when you don't have words the Holy Spirit will pray for you. You count on this. You ask other people to pray for you because you know they are more coherent and rational and also they love God and they love you and prayer feels like the best gift anyone could give right now. You borrow some of the faith of everyone you know because this really is the only thing getting you through.

 

You can read Surprises Part I here